Five Exercises to Do With a Step Box or Bench

 

Plyo boxes, weight benches or aerobic step boxes are great pieces of equipment to use for strength training. You don’t always have to go to the gym to use this type of equipment. You can get creative with what you have at home or invest in a box or bench for a home gym.

Here are some exercises I incorporate into my strength training every week:

 

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Step Ups (8-10 reps each side, 3 sets)

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  • You can hold a weight at each side or hold a heavier weight in front of your body. Both challenge your body in different ways.
  • Focus on making sure you feel the exercise in the leg that steps to the box first. As you can see in the video, my left foot steps on the box first. I should feel all the work in my left glute and entire left leg.
  • If you feel any knee pain, check your position. You should see a 90 degree angle with your knee stacking over your ankle. Sometimes it helps if your knee stays slightly behind the ankle too. 
  • Brace your core and don’t use momentum to get to the top of the box. Simply step to it. If you find yourself forcing yourself up, the weight is too heavy. 

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Step Up + Reverse Lunge

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  • This is a nice combo to tax the glutes and legs even more. 
  • When you step up, drive the entire foot into the step box. As you step back into a reverse lunge, push the entire front foot into the floor, making sure you feel your glute work. 
  • Don’t forget your 90 degree angles for both exercises. 

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Hip Thrust (10-15 reps, 3 sets)

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This is my favorite exercise to do right now. It’s great at targeting your glutes!

  • Find the right size box for you. The benches don’t work for me because I’m too short, but an aerobics box with 4 risers works or this plyo box in the video. The box should hit you just under your shoulder blades. 
  • Tuck you feet under your knees and keep your shins vertical as you drive up the weight.
  • As you drive the weight up, keep your chin tucked and eyes forward. Don’t look up towards the ceiling. 
  • Squeeze your glutes hard at the top. Your knees should slightly push out to make sure your glutes are turned on. 

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Elevated Glute Bridge (with or without weight) 20 reps, 3 sets

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I have been doing this at the end of my strength workouts lately. It’s a great finisher!

  • Drive through your heels to make sure your glutes are working. Squeeze hard at the top. 
  • If you feel more in your hamstrings, check your foot position. Your knees should stack mostly over your hips. 
  • For more of a challenge, use a mini band for this exercise. Place above your knees. 

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Box Jumps (5-8 reps, 2-3 sets)

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  • This is a great explosive exercise for advanced lifters. I wouldn’t recommend this for anyone with joint issues or new to an exercise program. 
  • Complete this after a thorough warm up. I don’t recommend doing this after or during your strength exercises. 
  • Land soft on the box. Imagine you can’t make a sound as you land on the box. 
  • Stand all the way up to finish the exercise. Once you land on the box, stand all the way. I see many people jump right back down after landing. 

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Diet or Exercise? What’s More Important When Seeking Results?

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the course of my journey is that you can’t out train a bad diet. In my early twenties, I always tried to exercise more to compensate for my poor nutrition choices. It wasn’t until I focused on eating the right food where I started to see my body change. When I committed 30 days to my nutrition at the start of this year for my Whole30, I saw great results without adding more exercise or even changing my exercise routine.

As a health and fitness professional, both diet and exercise are important. But, if I were to put a percentage on both, nutrition is much more powerful. As many of us say, it’s 80% nutrition, 20% exercise. It’s true! Some people who just focus on their nutrition and put minimal effort into their exercise can see great results. If you find you’re putting a lot of effort into your workouts, but are not seeing your body change, it’s time to take a look at your daily nutrition.

Three Key Nutrition Habits To Focus on

2.) Eat at least 5 Servings of Fruits and Vegetables a Day

– this isn’t breaking news. We all know we need to eat more fruits and vegetables to live a healthy lifestyle but it’s certainly important if you’re seeking results. Most Americans eat more fruit than vegetables. When seeking weight loss, focus on eating more vegetables than fruit. I like a 4:1 ratio (for every four servings of vegetables, eat one serving of fruit). This equals out to probably one serving of fruit a day. Everyone is unique, so you can start there and add more if you need it.

How to do it? If you’re a visual person, look at a meal plan visual here.

Make a Switch. First, take a minute to think about what you’re eating for meals or snacks. If you notice you eat crackers, chips, granola bars or cookies on a regular basis, start to replace those items with a fruit or vegetable. When I first started changing my diet, I was eating a lot of crackers, granola bars, pasta, pizza, frozen dinners and bread. I slowly started replacing my snack foods with vegetables or fruit and for my meals, I replaced grains with more vegetables.

Pair a Vegetable with Every Meal You Eat. It’s easy to eat fruit on-the-go, but vegetables are a little bit more work. To help yourself eat more vegetables, buy conveniently already chopped vegetables from the store or commit a few time each day to chop. Of course it’s more expensive to buy already chopped vegetables from the store, but if that’s going to help you eat more vegetables, go for it! I also buy a lot of pre-washed bagged salad. It’s not that much more in money but it’s a time saver! Every meal, ask yourself what your vegetable choice will be. For breakfast, maybe you throw in spinach into a breakfast smoothie or make a frittata loaded with vegetables.

2.) Protein

Protein helps you build and maintain your muscle mass, helps you stay full between meals and stabilizes your blood sugar. It plays a big role in seeking body change. So, how much protein should you eat a meal?

Focus on the size of your palm. This is a good start for the average person, but some people who are very active will need more. Start to read your labels to see how much protein is in the food you’re eating.

Protein Choices I buy every week at the grocery store 

  • Chicken breast (1-2 packages)
  • Boneless chicken thighs
  • Ground Turkey
  • Ground Beef
  • Ground Chicken
  • Tuna fish
  • Canned chicken
  • Mahi Mahi or some type of white fish
  • Eggs
  • Breakfast Sausage Links

* I eat most meals from home and cook for two. This always gets us through the week!

3.) Water – at least 8 cups or half your body weight in ounces.

When I first started dating my now husband, he always teased me that I never drank any water. It’s true! I was always drinking diet pepsi, diet peach Snapple or Propel. Wow, have things changed! Not only does water keep your body hydrated but it plays a role in healthy skin, improves energy and of course, helps with weight loss.

Two things that helped me drink more water:

  • Buy a nice water bottle and carry it everywhere you go. Every time you leave the house, be sure to grab your water bottle. I have two water bottles that I really enjoy, but when I first started trying to drink more water, I found having a water bottle with a straw really helped me.
  • Add flavor when you are tired of plain water. Sometimes I get tired of plain water so I always have lemons or limes on hand to add a bit of flavor when I need it. There are many options you can use besides lemon or lime: berries, cucumber, mint, etc. Sparkling water is also a nice treat, but I always open one once I’ve already had my filtered water goal for the day (75 ounces).

If you feel like you are working hard in the gym, but aren’t seeing the results you want, it might be time to assess your diet. How many times a week are you eating out? How many desserts? Alcohol? All those factor into seeing the results you want. Most importantly, remember why you want the results you’re looking for. My biggest goal this year is to watch my sugar intake. I want to enjoy it when I want, but not let it get out of control with cravings. Sugar can be a slippery slope for me, but still a month after my Whole30, I feel good about my relationship and it’s helped me see better results.

Six Things I Look for BEFORE Investing in a Gym Membership

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I have always loved being in a gym environment. Now, I realize not everyone loves the gym. Maybe it’s being around others, the driving time to even get to the gym, or not knowing what to do, people have countless reasons for not ever wanting to have a gym membership. The good thing is you can get results anywhere! However, I wanted to write a quick post for those individuals who do have a gym membership. I have been a member of several gyms over the last ten years, but I always do a walk through before actually signing up for a membership. Here are six “must have” equipment items a gym needs to have before I invest in a membership. These items help me stay engaged in working out consistently because they offer variety & an enjoyable workout.

 

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1.) Bumper Plates and Barbells

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Now, most gyms will have squat racks or benches with barbells, but not all gyms have bumper plates. Bumper plates are ideal because they are smooth all the way, which allows you to do exercises like deadlifts or hip thrusts much easier. The other plates at the gym have edges (like an octagon) so every rep you complete from the floor isn’t as smooth because it catches the edge and sometimes it shifts the barbell. Now, it’s not the end of the world if the gym doesn’t have bumper plates but it’s a big win if they do. 

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2.) TRX

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TRX training continues to get more popular. Even studios like Orange Theory or small group studios have them. They are great for your strength training program because it allows you to make an exercise easier or harder. Plus, it stabilizes your core with every exercise. 

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3.) Cable Machine

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This is another great machine to do a wide variety of upper body and core exercises. I don’t do much for lower body strength exercises, but there are a few isolating moves you can do.

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4.) Kettlebells and Medicine Balls

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These two pieces of equipment are great for more explosive exercises, as well as “aerobic” strength moves.  Plus, they make doing cardio fun! 

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5.) Plyometric Boxes

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Not only are they great for basic moves like step ups or elevated glute bridges, but you can also do explosive exercises like box jumps. Not all gyms have these soft boxes like mine, but it’s a huge plus if you enjoy doing box jumps since because they provide a soft landing. It also helps if you have a mental block or fear of not being able to land on the top of the box. 

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6.) Assisted Pull Up Machine

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For most women, it’s hard to do a pull up and in order to get stronger at them, you have to practice. The pull up machine is a great tool to use to improve your upper body strength. The more weight you use, the more the machine will help you. The goal: use less weight every month so you can eventually complete a pull up on your own. The assisted pull up machine is also great for completing higher reps. I’ll use it if I’m trying to complete 15 reps. 

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So, if you currently have a gym membership and are not using any of the following equipment items, walk around your gym to see if they are available. Stay tuned for next week as I have prepared to share my favorite go-to exercises using the equipment above!

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How To Quickly Shed Vacation Weight Gain

The last three weeks have been incredible for me! I had a wonderful wedding ceremony and reception on August 27th and then went on a two week honeymoon to Europe. I love exploring new cities throughout Europe and make it a priority to travel there every year. After traveling through Southern France, Paris, Belgium and Amsterdam, I came home with many pictures, memories….and 5 more pounds to my body!

That’s right, I gained five pounds in the last 2.5 weeks, while my husband lost four pounds (insert mad face here). Luckily, I have zero guilt about it because everything I ate in Europe was worth it and I savored every single bite! Now, some of the five pounds gained is water retention, while a pound or two may be fat. I wanted to share my five go-to strategies to shed my Europe vacation weight quickly.

1.) Drink Water Like It’s Your Job 

waterIn order to shed the water retention, you have to drink a lot of water. My focus is to drink 125 ounces of water, which equals to about five Starbucks cups. I like to use my water bottle to keep track of my ounces because it helps me stay on track.

2.) Let Veggies Be Your Carb Source Temporarily 

Even when I was in Europe, I made sure to eat vegetable every day, but it was no where near the amount that I eat at home. Since I consumed delicious almond croissants, chocolate, fruit tarts, bread and pizza throughout on vacation, I’m happy to take a break from any type of splurge food. For quick weight loss, eat 1-2 servings of non-starchy vegetables every meal. My goal is 5-8 servings a day. This helps me stay full, while also filling up on nutrients! I’m taking a temporary break from fruit, potatoes, rice, rice cakes (my normal go-to starchy carbs) for the next 3-5 days.

polar3.) Exercise Intensely

I walked a ton in Europe (185,000 steps in a week) but I did not have one intense workout. It was nice to get back to my routine!

This workout consisted of 20 minutes of stair mill intervals (Level 13 for 40 seconds and Level 3 for 20-30 seconds).

I completed the following circuit 3x.

  • 100 jumps with a jump rope
  • 15 up and overs on a step box
  • 30 second heavy ropes
  • 30 speed skaters

4.) Eat Plenty of Protein 

Each meal I’ve been focusing on eating at least 20 grams of protein. I have also stuck to very low fat protein sources like chicken breast, ground turkey and tuna fish. I don’t eat much dairy, but when I do, it’s normally cheese. Dairy can cause an inflammatory response in the body for some individuals, which could slow down weight loss, so I will eliminate any cheese from meals temporarily.

5.) Watch Salt & Eat From Home

Even if I’m eating a grilled chicken salad at a restaurant, I’m still consuming a lot of salt. In order to shed water weight, you need to watch how much salt you’re consuming. My goal is to keep salt to a minimum by watching how I season my foods and avoiding salty options like deli meats. Again, I’ll focus on minimizing salt for 3-5 days before going back to my normal cooking. To season protein sources like ground turkey or chicken breast, I love using no-salt seasoning.

Example Day 

Sun Warrior Protein Shake with unsweetened almond milk, 1 Tablespoon of Raw Almond Butter, 1 cup spinach.

Lunch: Baked Chicken with Olive Oil and No-Salt seasoning paired with veggies.

Snack: Can of Tuna with Celery, Onion, Peppers, Lemon Juice and 1/2 small Avocado

Dinner: Grilled Bun-less Turkey Burger with steamed veggies

Exercise: Walk 30+ minutes a day paired with a strength workout OR complete a high intensity workout (30 minutes) paired with 30 minutes+ of leisure walking.

This type of eating and exercising cannot be done long-term and it’s meant to be done in short cycles. Mentally, it’s challenging because food choices are more strict and carbohydrates are limited. As for exercising, you don’t want to tax your body every single day. So, after 3-5 days of hard exercise, a rest day is important. Rest days usually consist of stretching, foam rolling and walking.

 

How to Stay Motivated to Eat Healthy When You're Craving Unhealthy Foods

What Inspires Me to Stick with a Healthy Lifestyle

Over the last eight years, a lot has changed in the course of my nutrition journey. Exercise has always been enjoyable for me. Being involved in different sports throughout my entire childhood inspired me to get involved in the fitness industry for a career. My nutrition, on the other hand, has been a work in progress, but I’ve come a loooong way. I enjoy looking back now.

My childhood and early adult life consisted of breakfast cereal, macaroni and cheese, fast food, crackers, chips, ice cream, cookies and take out. Since I lived most of my life on those items, I still find them enjoyable and when I find myself getting bored of my healthy meals, I always gravitate towards the old favorites.

Those old favorites never get boring.

I’ve learned that I have to consistently work at staying healthy. Here are three tools that continue to help me make healthy choices every week.

 1.) Find a new recipe.

Sometimes this can be as simple as modifying one ingredient in your current recipe. Lately, I’ve added raw cashews into my vegetable + chicken stir-fry and BAM it elevates the meal. Even Taber raves about how much he enjoys it. Pinterest, food blogs, and healthy cookbooks are also crucial for me. I don’t find a new recipe every week, but I use this trick when my healthy meals don’t sound good. The more you can increase your healthy recipe library, the more likely you will make this a complete lifestyle change.

 2.) Invest in your kitchen.

How to Stay Motivated to Eat Healthy When You're Craving Unhealthy FoodsRight now, I’m receiving wedding gifts for my upcoming wedding and it has been so fun to receive my gifts! My two favorite items are my wood cutting board and food processor. The wood cutting board stays on my kitchen counter and it allows me to continue to eat 5+ servings of vegetables a day. Since it’s on the counter, it acts a reminder, but it also saves a little time. The food processor helps me change the texture of my vegetables. Recently, I used it to shred cabbage and beets so I can use them for salads all week. Again, it changes the ingredients for my go-to salads, which keeps me wanting to eat salads every week.

3.) Move daily.

There is something magical about exercise and how it can influence you to make better nutrition choices. It helps you become more mindful about what you’re having for your next meal, especially if you just had a tough workout! Daily movement for me helps me feel better mentally, but even a leisure walk can reset my nutrition intentions if I’m craving something unhealthy.

Like anything in life, the more you practice something, the better you get. Plus, it becomes a habit. It’s the same with living a healthy lifestyle. I’ve transformed my nutrition habits the last eight years, but I still have bumps in the road. With these key tools, I work them right away.

How to Say No to Food Temptations and Eat only your favorite foods

Is it Worth It?

Let’s face it, temptations are everywhere! When you’re focusing on living a healthy lifestyle or seeking weight loss, this can be very frustrating. Junk food may randomly show up in your work break room, a neighbor may stop by unexpectedly with cupcakes or you might even be tempted by a candy bar as you check out at the grocery store because you’re hungry. It’s hard to fight off these temptations. However, two things can help you fight the urge to indulge.

For years, I would indulge in mediocre food. For me, I would settle for burgers, pizza, desserts and much more that really wasn’t that good. Many times I would feel guilty afterwards because most likely I was tired when I wanted to make that choice for a meal.

Two solutions helped me work through unexpected temptations.

1.) I asked myself if it is worth it.

2.) I asked myself if I had something planned later in the week that would be worth it?

What do I mean by is it worth it? Consider this an item where every bite is absolutely delicious. You eat it slow and savor it. You may even make great facial expressions or noise. This item may be a homemade cake or dinner. It may be a meal out at your favorite restaurant. It may even be something that brings you back to a special memory like going to Dairy Queen with your grandpa. Whatever this item is, it’s worth every single calorie. So, when temptations arise, I ask myself if it’s worth it? Store bought cake? Not worth it. A burger at Wendy’s? Not worth it. Papa Murphy’s pizza? Not worth it. I know these things now because these were go-to places when I was too tired to cook or was craving. In order to break the habit of going to those places, I had to ask myself what was worth it.

Food for thought: If you’re going to make an unhealthy food choice, shouldn’t it be absolutely delicious? I learned, “Yes! It should.”

Here are a few items for me that I absolutely love:

Mom’s Homemade Chocolate Cake
Zeeks Pizza
A burger at Local 360
Tillamook Ice cream, Udderly Chocolate
Mom’s Homemade Waffles
Homemade Potato Salad
A Swirl Cone at Dairy Queen
Mom’s Homemade Clam Chowder
Homemade Sugar Cookies

Once I found out what was worth it, it made it much easier to pass on the convenient options.

Next, I asked myself if I had any fun plans or parties to attend in the week. If treats showed up at work randomly, but I had a family party to go to later in the week, it was easy to say no to the temptation at work because I knew the cake at the birthday party would be worth it.

When I work with clients, this is how I teach them how to reset their mindset about temptations. When they plan for something that they love later in the week, they always find it easier to pass on other items. Read more on how to plan out temptations here. 

What if you don’t know if it’s worth it?

How to Say No to Food Temptations and Eat only your favorite foodsIf there is something you really want to try and you don’t have anything planned for the week, try three small bites or split it with someone. When I go to new restaurants or bakeries in new cities, I’m always looking to split it with someone or a few people. This allows me to do exactly what I want to do….taste it.

Picture to the left: Sweet potato pancakes from the Pancake Pantry in Nashville, TN. I wasn’t sure how they would taste so I split them with my mom and sister and ordered a side of scrambled eggs. They ended up being delicious. Still, I ate less because I shared them with two other people, but enjoyed the meal very much.

These two solutions take work and effort, but it pays off in the long run.

I’m going to admit, the first time you say no to a temptation that isn’t worth it stings. It stings because you’re forced to change your old habits. But, the first time you say no to a temptation, the more momentum you will build for the next time an unexpected temptation arises. With practice, you’ll find yourself getting better and better saying no to food that just isn’t worth the calories.

How to follow the 90% rule and eat moderately

How to Actually Follow the 90% Rule & Learn to Eat with Balance

How to follow the 90% rule and eat moderatelyMany people have heard of the 90% rule or maybe even the 80/20 rule. I love this approach because it allows you to focus on the right foods more often without feeling restrictive. I know for me, the moment I tell myself I can’t have something, I want it more! Don’t get me wrong, there are times throughout the year when I take a break from my favorite foods. But, my mindset is different. I wouldn’t be successful if I told myself “I can’t have this right now.” Instead, I’ll use the words “I’m choosing not to have this right now because (insert the why here). I’ll also focus on all the foods that I CAN have.

Back to the 90% rule.

The 90% rule focuses on eating the right foods 90% of the time, while keeping some of your favorite foods in your meal plan throughout the week. Everyone has their favorite foods. For me, it most likely is a dessert or going out to dinner for pizza or a burger. Consider this something that doesn’t provide a lot of nutritional value and is more calorie dense. Maybe even going out for breakfast. For others, it might be alcohol or high caloric coffees.

5 Steps for Following The 90% Rule

1.) Figure Out Your 10%

This is a simple breakdown of how many meals you eat a day. The average person eats 3 main meals. Others may do 3 meals and a snack. You’ll also hear some individuals doing 5-6 small meals a day. Any of these options work.

Once you’ve determined how many meals you eat on average, calculate how many meals you eat a week.

Example:

3 meals a day x 7 days a week = 21 meals (2 splurge meals determines your 10%)

4 meals a day x 7 days a week = 28 meals (2-3 splurges is your 10%)

5 smaller meals a day x 7 days a week = 35 meals (3-4 splurges a week)

Here’s what an example looked like for me last week.

90percentrule

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, should you feel obligated to follow this calculation? No. If you’re looking to maintain your weight, you may be able to have more wiggle room. If you are seeking weight loss, you may need to stick to the 90% rule or scale back more on your splurges more. Everyone has a unique metabolism.

2.) Plan Your Week In Advance

I keep a mental note at the beginning of every week. Do I have any birthday parties? Events? Family or friend gatherings? If so, I keep it in the 10% bank if I feel like I will want to enjoy something. Sometimes I don’t have anything going on for the week, but I still want to go out to dinner for fun or enjoy a cookie on a Saturday night. When you plan ahead on what you want to enjoy that may not be the most nutritious for you, most likely you are going to enjoy it. Years ago, when I didn’t want to cook, I would go to Five Guys, get takeout pizza or go out to Mexican food. I always felt guilty afterwards because I didn’t intend to make those choices at the beginning of the day, but I was too tired to care. I also found I didn’t enjoy my meal as much because I was tired from the long day (which brings me to #3!).

3.) Determine Your Emergency Meals When You Don’t Want to Cook 

I’ve written about this here. This is CRUCIAL to practice. The more you practice healthy emergency meals, the easier eating healthy gets. First, find meals that take minimal time to make. My favorites include a smoothie, tuna fish or an omelette. We all have days when we won’t want to cook (even the quick options). So, if you have go-to places to go that do not have free temptations, you will stay on track.

4.) Practice Saying No To Unexpected Temptations 

When I started practicing the 10% rule, I definitely had some slip ups. I would plan for enjoying my treat on a specific day(s), but then someone would bring in cookies to work. Ugh. At first, I would eat the cookies or whatever treats arrived in the break room. But, overtime, I practiced saying no. It stings the first time you decide to pass on a temptation, especially when you really want it. But, the more you do, the easier it gets.

When unexpected temptations come up, focus on your why. Maybe it’s because you want to enjoy your mom’s homemade cake on Saturday and it’s worth every bite. Remind yourself that this will be your treat this week, not the cookie today. Or maybe you really want to lose 10 lbs and you don’t want to slow down your progress. When you remember your why in these situations, you’ll have a good chance on passing on the temptation.

5.) Stay Mindful

When it’s time to enjoy your favorite meal, it’s crucial to stay mindful. Here are a few of my favorite tips.

1.) If I plan to indulge for a meal, I’ll scan the menu for what protein source and/or veggie can I pair with it.

  • Breakfast:  I love pancakes or french toast. If I can, I’ll ask if I can order one pancake or 1 piece of french toast on the side (instead of ordering a stack of pancakes because it’s too much food). If I can order a single, I’ll order a veggie omelette as my protein/veggie source or eggs & bacon with my pancake or french toast.
  • Lunch or dinner: I’ll order a side salad. This fills me up enough so I don’t overeat the main meal.
  • Split meals. Splitting meals allows you to get the taste of it without overeating. I’ve found over time I’m perfectly content with a 1/2 burger with a handful of fries & a side salad. When I’ve eaten the whole burger + some fries + a side salad, I’m too full.

2.) Be aware of your other meals. 

If I know I’m going to to dinner, I’ll be sure to get in as much protein and veggies as I can for my other meals for the day. My goal is to have at least 4 servings of veggies before or after my splurge.

3.) Ask yourself if it’s worth it. 

Does it taste amazing? Is it worth every bite? Sometimes it is, but other times it isn’t and you’re disappointed. When you find yourself disappointed, practice eating less of it. This takes time to conquer, but it’s do-able. I’ve been very proud of myself when I notice my splurge isn’t amazing and I stop after two or three bites.

4.) Be aware of portion sizes 

When I go out for pizza, I don’t eat the whole pie just because it’s my meal to indulge! In the past, I did eat up to 4 slices. However, I needed an immediate nap on the couch afterwards because I was so full. Now, by staying mindful and adding some veggies to the side, I’m perfectly content with up to 2 slices of pizza.

Enjoy your splurge by eating it slow, savoring every bite. Don’t scarf it down because most likely you’ll overeat, like I used to with 4 slices of pizza.

My biggest goal when dining out is to leave the restaurant feeling satisfied, not stuffed.

 

Five of My Favorite Core Exercises

 

When many people think of the core, they think of the abdominals. But, the core is made up of so much more including the obliques, glutes, hip flexors, erectors, lats and more! Your core also moves and resists many movements like lateral flexion, extension, rotation and flexion. While I feel people are getting more educated on strengthening their core, still some people I work with think of doing sit ups first to gain strength. Here are my favorite core exercises that work all movement patterns.

 

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1.) Master the plank first. 

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You can do a plank anywhere and it doesn’t require any equipment. Many people know of this exercise, but it’s a great exercise because it works many areas at once – your abdominals, quads, glutes, shoulders, and more! Here are a few tips.

  • Keep your elbows under your shoulders
  • Keep your eyes looking in between your fists 
  • Squeeze your glutes and engage your quads 
  • Relax your shoulders
  • Drive your heels slightly back towards the floor 
  • Breathe through your belly 
  • Hold as long as you can (goal is 60 seconds)

Once you can hold this exercise for 60 seconds, you’re ready to move on to different plank variations. To make it more challenging, lengthen your plank even more. In the picture you can see my shoulders are slightly back behind my elbows.

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The Plank Drag (progress)

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I love this exercise. The goal is to resist rotation through the torso. Here are a few tips.

  • Keep your hips and shoulders square to the ground. It’s easy for your right hip to lift and open up as you pull with your right hand. 
  • Squeeze your glutes 
  • Reach underneath your body to pull the weight (this can be a dumbbell also)
  • Keep your feet wider than your shoulders 
  • Complete 6-12 reps each side. 

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2.) The Roll Out

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I consider this an advanced exercise. If you have never done this before, try the roll out with the stability ball first.

  • Starting position is key: Begin with your hips pushed forward and the wheel underneath your shoulders. Return back to this exact position as you roll back.
  • Squeeze your glutes. Your glutes protect your low back. If you feel any pressure in your low back with your roll out, most likely you aren’t engaging your glutes.
  • Roll out enough until you feel your abdominals fire. Don’t worry about extending out as far as the picture. Find what you can do with good control.
  • Complete 8-15 reps.

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The Stability Ball Roll Out (Option 2)

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If the wheel roll out isn’t working, try it with a stability ball.

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3.) Side Plank

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A great exercise for working resisting lateral flexion through the spine.

  • Line your elbow up underneath the shoulder 
  • Squeeze your right side and right glute
  • Engage your upper back and the muscles around the shoulder blade. This should be your support system. If you feel any pressure in the front of the shoulder, adjust your position. 
  • If this position feels hard to get into, bend your top knee and place the foot in front of your hip. 
  • Hold for up to 60 seconds. 

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Side Plank (Advanced)

Need it to be more challenging? Elevate your feet. I will usually do this in a TRX.

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4.) Dead Bug

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Sometimes this exercise gets people mentally working too 🙂

  • Starting position: make sure your low back is in the most comfortable position. It should not be arched (thinking I can slide my hand underneath your back). For most people, it helps to eliminate that space and keep it still as you move your legs. 
  • Keep your knee over your hip. It’s easy for your knee to come closer to your belly button. 
  • Move your opposite arm and leg together (right leg, left arm then left leg, right arm)
  • Complete 8-12 each side. 

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 Stability Ball Dead Bug (Advanced)

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This is a fantastic exercise if you do it correctly. Key tip: can you bring you one leg up to 90 degrees? If you can’t, this exercise will not work for you and you will compensate somewhere in your body to attempt it. Notice in the first picture, both feet are at 90 degrees (ankles over hips)

  • The difference between this exercise isn’t much technically (follow the first three tips above), but you will also want to focus on not letting the stability ball move. It should stay still as you drop one arm and one leg. 
  • Focus on doing this by actively pushing your opposing hand and foot into the ball strong. This will fire your core even more! 
  • Also, focus on tucking our chin so you aren’t straining your neck. 
  • Complete 8-12 reps each side. 

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5.) Sprinting 

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Sprinting might be my favorite core exercise. I’ll do this at least once a week up a hill (like the picture) or on a flat surface like my driveway or a track. The goal is to go as fast as you can for a short period.

  • Keep your shoulders away from your ears as you sprint. Many people can hike their shoulders up. 
  • Pump your arms and hands and don’t cross them over your mid section. 
  • Stand up tall after you’ve gained your top speed. 
  • Workout: 5 sprints to the first mark, 3 sprints to the second mark, 2 sprints to the third mark.

You can find landmarks in your neighborhood or whatever area you’ve chosen to sprint. After sprinting at 100%, walk back to your starting mark and rest as long as you need to so you can sprint at full speed every interval. Your workout should last 15-20 minutes. Warm up with light walking, high knees, butt kickers, lateral shuffles, and stretching before sprinting.

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Core exercises are important to do every week. I usually incorporate them into my strength training after warming up. If you’re a beginner, complete at least 2 exercises for 2 sets, 2-3 days a week. If you are more advanced, complete 3 sets for 3 days a week (with a day of rest in between each workout).

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Two Questions To Ask Yourself Before Every Meal

How To Simplify Meal Planning

Meal planning can be so simple if you know how to approach it. Going through the Precision Nutrition certification has helped me make nutrition easier to master for myself & clients. When I’m coaching clients, instead of sitting down telling them how many calories to eat, I coach them how to re-train their thoughts BEFORE they make the meal. This can really simplify the process.

So, what should be the two most important questions to ask yourself before every meal?

1.) What’s my vegetable?

2.) What’s my protein source? 

Cooking from home? Ask yourself what two choices sound the best. Dining out? No problem, you know what to look for on the menu. This takes practice, but the more you practice it, it will be hard for you NOT to think this way before every meal.

Vegetables are nutrient dense since they are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber. They also fill you up on less calories. Protein helps you stay full in between meals and will help you maintain/gain lean muscle. It also stabilizes your blood sugar. These key components tend to help you move the dial the fastest to helping you get healthy. They can also be two key pieces that will help with weight loss. The common American diet is filled with processed foods, added sugar and fat. Vegetables tend to lack. Most of my teenage & early adult life, most of my food came from a box and I only consumed a few servings of vegetables a week.  When it came to transforming my diet, I focused on asking myself these two key questions and after much practice, it’s automatic thinking for me for every single meal.

Now, what about carbohydrates and healthy fats? Those need to be included too. Plates may vary depending if you are looking to lose weight or just get healthy.

Here’s a visual of two plates:

The Healthy Plate (each meal)

 Goals for Women

  • Aim for 20-30 grams of protein each meal
  • 20-30 grams of carbohydrates (a cupped handful or ½ cup measured)
  • 1 thumb of fat (8-12 grams)
  • 1-2 fists of vegetables

Goals for Men

  • Aim for 35-50 grams of protein per meal
  • 2 fists of vegetables
  • 2 thumbs of fat (15-25 grams)
  • 35-50 grams of carbohydrates (1.5-2 cupped handfuls)

Serving sizes may vary depending on your size & activity level. This is a starting recommendation if you eat three to four meals a day. If you eat more frequently, adjust your serving sizes. Some individuals may see weight loss from this plate. Others may need to focus on the weight loss/fat loss plate.

Carbohydrate: Potato (sweet potato is ideal), rice, oatmeal, beans and fruit. Bread, pasta and rice cakes are also options if those are foods you enjoy.

Protein: chicken, beef, pork, eggs/egg whites, turkey, wild game, fish, lobster/shrimp, crab, cottage cheese & Greek yogurt are all great choices.

Fat: Olive oil, coconut oil, macadamias, fish oil, flax oil, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, avocado, pistachios, almonds, olives, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pecans and cashews are great choices. Animal meats like dairy, cheese, butter and meat also fall into this category.

Weight/Fat Loss Plate (most meals)

This plate works really well for individuals seeking weight loss. You may notice healthy fat servings are slightly more than the healthy plate and starchy carbohydrates are less. Find what gives you the best results.

Fat Loss Meal PlanningGoals for Women

  • Aim for 70+ grams of protein a day
  • 3-5 thumbs of fat (40-60 grams) a day
  • 5+ servings of vegetables a day
  • Use this plate for most meals

Goals for Men

  • Aim for 100+ grams of protein a day
  • 6-8 thumbs of fat a day
  • 7+ servings of vegetables a day
  • Use this plate for most meals

Servings vary depending of your size and activity level

Post Exercise Plate for Weight/Fat Loss

Easy Meal Planning Post ExerciseWhen seeking weight loss, carbohydrates tend to be best consumed after a workout. Breakfast is another time slot when carbohydrates can be tolerated. If you find yourself in a plateau, eliminate this plate for breakfast if you exercise in the afternoon or evening.

Everyone has a different carbohydrate tolerance

I work with clients that can have a serving of carbohydrates every meal, while others see results by sticking with starchy carbohydrates after exercise. Find what gives you the best results. The trial and error process takes some time, but with patience, you’ll find your sweet spot where you are getting results & keeping your energy stable.

Be patient

If seeking weight loss, you can’t always use the scale to show if you’re getting results. Monitor your mood, energy levels, stress levels, sleep patterns, check to see how your clothes are fitting and notice if you feel any better. These are all wins! If you find you’re stuck in a plateau after monitoring these items, ask yourself what needs to change. Do you need to eat more protein? Eat more vegetables? Less starchy carbohydrates? A little more starchy carbohydrates if you’re experiencing low energy? More water? Everyone has a unique metabolism and it’s up to you to find what works best.

Three Components to a great exercise program

Three Key Components To A Great Exercise Program

Three Components to a great exercise programI get a lot of questions about what to do for exercise for fat loss or even weight loss. Plus, I get a few questions of what to do just to stay healthy! While changing your nutrition alone can help you see results, proper workouts are just as important. Here’s a breakdown of a great exercise program.

If you have 2 hours to dedicate to exercise a week, focus on strength training first. 

1.) Strength training (2-3x/week for 30 minutes – 60 minutes)

Most clients I work with want to tone their bodies, but in order to do so, you have to build muscle first. The more muscle you have on your body, the more calories you burn during your workouts, but also during your sleep and your normal activities throughout the day. If you’re looking for weight loss, you need to strength train to keep your metabolism up. It’s easy to just do aerobic exercise to see the number on the scale move. Unfortunately, this may mean you are losing precious muscle and the moment you quit your aerobic exercise and healthy eating, you can gain back more weight than when you started.

Another note: the older we get, the easier it is for our bodies to lose muscle. In return, this means our metabolism is burning less calories and it’s easier to gain weight.

Strength training allows you to see your body change. Some people may not notice the scale budge, but they will see their frame decrease in size. EX: A woman may notice her clothes fit better, but she hasn’t lost a pound on the scale. She shouldn’t be discouraged because her body is changing!

Action Steps: 

1.) Dedicate time every week to strength training at least one time a week. Two-three sessions are ideal with a day or two of rest in between.

2.) Use big movement patterns like squats, lunges, push ups, lat pulldowns, cable rows, step ups. They require the least amount of time and the most bang for your buck. I love doing total body workouts 3x a week.

3.) If you haven’t done strength training in months or years, start small. Complete each exercise 10-15x for 1 set. If you’re more advanced, perform 2-4 sets per exercise. Reps can vary.

4.) Follow a program & write down your weight/set/reps. I write myself a new program every month and will increase my sets or weight throughout the program to progress each week. If you’re brand new to strength training, find a coach, follow an at-home DVD or begin a class. My biggest take home message: commit to something!

If you have 2.5 to 3.5 hours to commit to an exercise program, add interval training. 

2.) Interval training (1-3x a week for 15-30 minutes)

Interval training is great at burning calories and giving your metabolism a boost. It’s also great to do on days you don’t strength train. Dedicate 15-30 minutes to interval train 1-3x a week. I want you to think of interval training as two steps: working at an intensity until you can’t push any longer, then recover until you can push another interval. Custom interval training with a heart rate monitor is the best type of interval training because it’s built around your heart rate zone.

Action Steps:

1.) Choose your form of interval training. My favorites include: my boxing class,  incline walking, stair master, rowing machine or a lighter kettle bell or dumbbell workout.

2.) Start with a warm up for 2-3 minutes then increase the intensity to a challenging pace. Push for 20-60s then recover by decreasing your pace/intensity for 20-60s. Complete 5-12 rounds. Your workout time can be a total of 15-30 minutes.

Beginner Example: 20 seconds hard, 60 seconds rest (shorter work, longer rest)

Intermediate Example: 30 seconds hard, 30 seconds rest (equal ratio of work & rest)

Advanced Example: 40 or 45 seconds hard, 15-20 seconds rest (negative rest)

*You can get creative with your interval times.

My favorite is heart rate training using my Polar Beat App & HR monitor: Push as long as you need to until you reach the red zone then recover at a low intensity until you hit the green zone.

3.) Choose to complete your interval training on days you don’t strength train.

Interval training can help with fat loss & many notice the scale decrease, as well. Following a diet that’s 80% right is important for good results.

If you have 4 to 6 hours to commit to exercise a week, add leisure exercise. 

3.) Leisure Exercise 

If you can dedicate more time to your workouts each week, be sure to include some leisure exercise like walking, yoga, foam rolling, or stretching. Even doing a moderate cardio workout falls into this category. If you like to go for a run, go for it! Walking is a great low intensity exercise and can be done most days of the week without stressing your body. It’s great for recovery, as well as stretching/foam rolling/yoga. After receiving a fitbit, my goal is to reach 10,000 steps a day. Some days it’s easier, while other days require serious effort. So far, my streak has not been broken & I’ve hit my goal everyday since January 1st. Not wanting to break my streak has been extremely motivating for me and I do what it takes (even when I don’t want to) to hit my goal.

Action Steps:

1.) Find ways to move every day. On breaks at work, go for a leisure walk or practice getting up from your desk every hour. Go for a leisure walk on days you aren’t performing a challenging workout.

2.) If you need motivation, look to invest in a pedometer to know where you’re at each day. I don’t think you’ll regret the purchase!

3.) Feel free to do this daily or after strength workouts. Keep your intensity low.

Note: Many people may notice their clothes are fitting better & they see the number on the scale budge when they incorporate leisure exercise on top of interval training & strength training. Eating 80% right is crucial for this to happen for most individuals.

The biggest questions you need to ask yourself are…

1.) Am I enjoying what I’m doing? If so, you’ll do it forever.

2.) Are you seeing results? Remember, you cannot use the scale as your only method of tracking results. Take measurements with a tape measure, pay attention to your mood, how your clothes are fitting and noticing if you’re sleeping better are all positive wins!

Here’s what my current exercise program looks like: 

Monday: 30-60 minute leisure walk (really whatever it takes to hit my goal of 10,000 steps)

Tuesday: Total body strength training (45-60 minutes) + leisure walk

Wednesday: 30-60 minute leisure walk with or without 10 minutes of interval training

Thursday: Boxing Class + leisure walk

Friday: Total body strength training (45-60 minutes) + leisure walk

Satuday: Boxing Class or Incline TM/Stair Master Intervals for 20-25 minutes + leisure walking

Sunday: Total body strength training + leisure walking

Note: Do I need to leisure walk every day? No, but I enjoy it. I find it relaxing and I enjoy my time going for a walk with my dog & family. Plus, I like the personal accomplishment of hitting my goal of 10,000 steps a day. It’s motivating!